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ICR identifies key "microRNA" gene driving chemotherapy resistance in cancer

Published on 12/02/20 at 12:53pm

Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research have discovered that a small RNA molecule known as microRNA gene MIR1249 contributes to the chemotherapy-resistant nature of some bile duct tumours, potentially paving the way for more effective cancer-fighting drugs.

The body’s WNT signalling network is partly responsible for the regulation of stem cells, but the MIR1249 gene is able, according to the researchers, to “rewire” this network, enabling cancer cells to co-opt the resilient, self-regenerating properties of stem cells, allowing them to survive bouts of chemotherapy.

The team were able to show that inhibiting the gene’s activity in human and mouse tissue samples increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy in cancer cells.

Thus, the team at ICR theorised that this could have big implications for the future of drug design. Traditional approaches to cancer drug development has been to focus on therapies whose mechanism of action block the action of proteins implicated in the development of the disease. However, this latest discovery would allow for the design of treatments which target this microRNA molecule instead.

In the case of bile duct cancer, the team hopes that an MIR1249-targeting therapy can be built which would render the tumours vulnerable to chemotherapy, which would have a significant impact in such a hard-to-treat disease with a high level of unmet need, but these benefits could potentially be applied to other areas of cancer, should that this mechanism of resistance exists in other forms of the disease.

“Our study shows the crucial role played by a piece of microRNA in rewiring the network of signals within cancer cells and helping them to resist the effects of chemotherapy,” commented Dr Chiara Braconi, study leader and Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Reader in the Institute of Cancer Sciences at the University of Glasgow. “It identifies MIR1249 as a potential drug target in bile duct cancers and possibly other tumour types, and opens up what could be an exciting new avenue of treatment.

“It’s remarkable how such a tiny piece of RNA can play such a significant role in rewiring cancer cells so that they can resist chemotherapy," she added. "There is growing interest in the idea of developing drugs against RNA rather than against proteins, as studies like ours show the important role of microRNA in cell signalling.”

Matt Fellows

 

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